Archive for November, 2016

November 13, 2016

Me and Roger, Part Two

I walk into the theatre with the confidence of a man who’s been recommended by Jesus.  Boosted by the hubris of a few things:

  1. I’m still in my twenties, so, I must be good at anything
  2. I’ve been listening to and playing songs from Godspell for most of my life
  3. I’m available and the show starts in three days

To be clear – Jesus was Richard Chaney. He and I were in a show together (my first real show, which of course makes me an expert in all things show biz), and he had initially said that the Edge didn’t need a guitar player. Now that opening night was close, they were re-thinking, and Richard thought I was the guy for the job.

godspell

 

So in I go – for safety, I bring my acoustic, my electric, my banjo, my mandolin, and a shit ton of gear. Just like a guy would who thinks he’s already got the job.

The cast is in rehearsal when I walk in. Stage isn’t built out. Set isn’t built out. SEATS AREN’T INSTALLED YET. But the vibe is great – 100 seats, energetic sounding cast, and a Hammond Organ. (More about that later). I’m about to meet Roger.

Roger is imposing – if he isn’t smiling (and when he’s working, he’s frowning, not smiling): he’s tall, big voice, confident. He strides over when he sees me with my guitar and says something like “Hey kid, Jesus here thinks you can play the guitar”.

I’m a bit daunted, but not overly much – I love the show, and I think I know it.

Roger disabuses me of that immediately: “We’ll skip the Prologue for now”, he says. “Grab your axe”.

Okay – so – I didn’t know there was a Prologue, but whatever. Roger brings the cast over, puts a foot on the stage, waits while I tune up, and then goes right into the first tune of the show. Fine with me; I know that one.

It’s “Prepare Ye”, and it’s super fun: Lots of vocal pyrotechnics, fun syncopation. Roger doesn’t play it like I do, but we’re close. When it gets to the end, and I play the solo, he grumbles at me “So you think you can solo, hey kid?”.

“Save the People” is next, and also a stable in my tool-kit, right down to the finishing guitar lick.

So I’m feeling pretty good. Into the next tune (Day by Day) which also has a cool little guitar lick at the start, and also has a neat time change: it starts in three, and then switches to four. Anyway, I hang in there with Roger for that tune, including another cool little guitar part to finish.

I hang in on the next tune, but barely. It’s a vaudeville style tune (and wickedly fun to play, turns out) but I’m not good at it. I feel like I’m slipping.

“Bless the Lord” is good – I know that one. Roger isn’t exactly smiling, but he’s not frowning.

When we get to “All Good Gifts”, I also get out my recorder, and play the solo – I want Roger to know I’m serious.

And so it goes. Win some, lose some. Most of all though – it’s super clear to me that Roger knows the show FAR better than I do. And that he’s a WAY better guitar player than I am.

I totally punt on the first two tunes of the Second Act. Turns out I don’t know the show like I thought.

But Roger rolls his eyes, sighs, and says something like “Okay kid, I think you’ll do. But you better go learn the 2nd act”.

And just like that – I’m in. And by in – I mean I’m in the show, and I’m in Roger’s circle. I don’t really know it yet, but I kinda feel it: he’s got my under his wing.

So. This story is about Roger (and Godspell). But Roger’s brother Michael and the Hammond Organ are a part of it, too. I don’t know this at the time, but Michael and I will sit next to each other for 5 nights a week for 160 nights. Michael is the director, and the keyboard player, and Roger the musical director. So after Michael gives final stage direction, he puts on his keyboard hat, and that includes playing the Hammond.

Not the one we used for the show, but close!

Not the one we used for the show, but close!

It’s a gorgeous piece of furniture and the best sounding rock keyboard in the world. They are rare to find in good condition, finicky, and at their best – also include a Leslie speaker. It’s the thing on the left – a big speaker on a spindle. And slots in the cabinet for the sound to spin through. Michael can control the speed of the Leslie, and there isn’t anything like the sound of a Hammond organ played through a Leslie slowly coming up to speed.

So I know I’m in because now that I’m in the band, I have to help move both of them. The Hammond is close to 500 pounds, and the Leslie another 150. But the stage isn’t quite ready yet, so we move it around for our first practice (which is starting right then) and I know that we’re going to move it a few more times before the show starts.

Roger tells me to go get the rest of my gear, so I do. The theatre is on the 2nd floor of a strip mall, so getting the banjo, mandolin, and stands isn’t a big deal. But my amp is another story. Roger conveniently waits until I’ve moved it up before telling me “Hey dumbass – you can park behind the theatre to load in your gear”.

And that’s the start of my relationship with Roger: he insults me in a way that’s like having a nickname: you know he had to think about you enough to get one. And it’s funny, what with the eye rolling, the sarcasm, and so on.

I went out and purchased the full soundtrack to Godspell this week; I had bits and pieces of it from various different collections, and I wanted to have it start to finish. I listened a few more times this week and I’m already a little less sad. But I can also see Roger when I hear the music; he was always across the stage, with the drummer. He was super particular about the tempo of “Save the People” and super particular about the exact moment he wanted me to start. He couldn’t count it in, not from across the stage. So he’d give me a silent foot tap to watch for tempo, and then he’d point his finger at me like a gun, and then pull the trigger for me to start. I miss that. And thought I’d get to do that again, despite the theatre not being in business. Talk about cognitive dissonance: I really still thought it would happen. Or that me and Roger would chat about it someday, all of the small things that we did when we played together.

So. I’m collecting my Roger stories. I fall asleep at night, switching a bit between sad and happy. Sometimes laughing out loud at some comment I remember Roger making, and sometimes getting a little tripped up when I think of him being gone. This lyric from the show, helps, because me and Roger did this, for awhile:

“Let me skip the road with you, I can dare myself, I can dare myself”.

More to write.

 

 

November 6, 2016

Me And Roger (Part One)

(Apologies to Michael Moore)

My friend Roger met his new road on Wednesday.

roger-kelley

I’ve been thinking about him a lot, and thinking about Roger also makes me think about The Edge of the World, a theatre company that was important to me, and thinking about the Edge makes me think about Godspell, the musical that has been part of my story off and on since I was a kid.

Hard to consider all of those things without dipping into all of the time I spent being part of the Catholic Church, and while I’ve (as Roger might have said) “quit that bullshit” – there were a lot of formative and good things in and around the church while I was a part of it.

So I’ll take these on bit by bit, to see if writing about it makes me feel better.

My Godspell theatre mates will get the inside joke about “meeting his new road”. It’s a line in “By My Side” a tune in the 2nd half of the show. Roger isn’t the first person from the Edge to meet a new road; my friend Thomas did so about 18 months ago. When Thomas passed unexpectedly, I laced up my running shoes, put Godspell on my phone and went for a run in the rain.

How many times before something becomes a pattern? I didn’t know what else to do, so I did the same for Roger: laced up my shoes, grabbed my phone, and ran that same loop.

It’s a new phone, so it decided to play the soundtrack in random order; Roger would have been pleased to know that my run started with the Finale – it’s where Jesus is crucified. He’d have laughed his ass off (Roger, but maybe Jesus, too). So there I am, running down the Burke Gilman trail, crying and laughing all at the same time, and thinking about how Roger had moved to the other side. (There’s another inside joke there – part of one of the sketches in the show, about the sheep and the goats).

But wait, there’s more: Just like after Thomas passed, at my first opportunity, I grabbed my score, and played the entire show. I waited until there wasn’t anyone at home, partly because I’m a bit rusty on the guitar, but mostly because I didn’t want to get caught crying.

Most productions of Godspell skip the prologue, which is too bad: it really sets up the rest of the show. It opens with the cast taking on a series of philosophers (Socrates first, and Buckminster Fuller last), and singing just a bit of each of their philosophy. As I played along, I figured that Roger would have picked either Nietzsche or Sartre, if he had to pick one:

Nietzsche: “What is noble, nowadays?”

Sartre: “Atheistic existentialism, which I represent is more coherent, I do believe it. There is no such thing as human nature, not in all or few men, since there is no God to conceive it.”

But maybe, just maybe, he’d have been okay with the last line in the prologue: “I seem to be a verb.

Roger was certainly that.

Anyway, playing through the score was all fun and games until the 2nd act. That’s when “By My Side” appears, and even just the opening line did me in:

“Where are you going? Where are you going? Can you take me with you?”

It sort of turned into a snot-fest for the rest of that song; my dogs were very concerned that I wasn’t well. And they were right about that – how do you be well in the midst of coming to grips with someone passing? I don’t know exactly, but I generally run, play music, and write.

The next song after that is an up tempo tune and brought back fantastic stage memories for me. It has a key change for the final verse, and it’s giant and sudden and the whole cast goes from prone to full height and in belt voice sings:

Grant us hope from earth to rise, and to strain with eager eyes, towards the promised heavenly prize: We beseech Thee, hear us!”

It was a super fun song to play, and almost impossible to keep sittng down. One night, the guy singing the lead had a cold, and me and Roger bet on if he could hit the high note after the key change. Roger bet he could, and I bet he couldn’t. Roger won that one.

Remember when I said this is about more than just Roger?

On closing night, Richard Chaney was leaving town, and while we were going to strike the set and have a closing night party anyway – it was additionally bittersweet for me: Richard had introduced me to Edge of the World, we lived nearby and Steven Boe and Richard and I once in a while played open mic nights . . .

Anyway – during “On The Willows”, Richard (he was Jesus in the show) says goodbye to all of the disciples.

It was always a teary part of the show, but that night, even more so, because it was closing night.

I loved the little guitar interlude in that song (sometimes played it on mandolin) and was watching and playing. Just as we were to transition to the final chorus though, Richard changed his blocking and headed towards Robert Olding and Roger (Roger on bass, Robert on drums), to say his goodbye’s to them, too.

Michael Kelley (keys and Hammond organ) looped us back through that cool guitar part, and from across the stage I saw Roger and Robert give Richard a big hug, at which point, I fairly well lost it and started to cry.

It was odd: back then I was still a church goer, and I loved hearing the Godspell story every night. Even now, when I take away the stuff about religion that I dislike so much – the core part of that story still seems true: love one another. Be kind. Don’t worry overly much about the future. And that’s what our little cast did, together. Loved each other a lot. Were kind to one another. Didn’t worry overly much about what was next.

Anyway, as Richard headed my way, I stood up so I could give him a hug, and I was bawling pretty hard. And in that moment I was keenly aware that I was saying goodbye to a friend and at the same time was a part of that much older origin story and wsa saying goodbye to Jesus in the show, too. And also saying goodbye to that particular cast.

That’s a lot of goodbye, packed into a small moment.

So that’s what I’m doing at the moment, getting through some of these goodbyes.

Roger’s on his new road.

I have more to write, but not now.

November 6, 2016